If you consider that the winter season started for us in the Northern Hemisphere at the December solstice, the upcoming full moon is this season’s second full moon. In North America, we often call this full moon the Wolf Moon, Snow Moon or Hunger Moon. From around the world tonight and tomorrow – January 27 and 28, 2021 – watch for a full-looking moon to light up the nighttime from dusk until dawn.
In common usage, the moon is said to be full for a few days around the crest of the moon’s full phase. To astronomers, the moon turns full at a well-defined instant: when the moon is directly opposite the sun (180 degrees from the sun in ecliptic longitude). That full moon moment will arrive on January 28, 2021, at 19:16 UTC. At North American and U.S. time zones, that translates to January 28, at 3:16 p.m. Atlantic Standard Time (AST), 2:16 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST), 1:16 p.m. Central Standard Time (CST), 12:16 p.m. Mountain Standard Time (MST), 11:16 a.m. Pacific Standard Time (PST), 10:16 a.m. Alaska Standard Time (AKST) and 9:16 a.m. Hawaiian Standard Time (HST).
Where does the name Wolf Moon come from? It’s tempting to think of hungry wolves howling outside snow-covered villages at this time of year. The name is often said to come from Native American culture, but Indian Country Today pointed out in 2013 that the name Wolf Moon doesn’t appear on the lists of American Indian moon names compiled by Phil Konstantin, who worked for NASA, among other places. Indian Country Today wrote:
Of the 29 tribes listed [by Phil Konstantin], not one actually calls January the Wolf Moon, although the Sioux name is Wolves Run Together Moon. The Algonquin … call the January moon squochee kesos, or Sun Has Not Strength to Thaw …
The moon names tend to mirror latitude somewhat. For instance, to the Haida in Alaska it’s táan kungáay, or Bear-Hunting Moon. The Hopi in southwest Arizona call it paamuya, Moon of Life at its Height. In the Pacific Northwest it’s atalka, meaning Stay Inside. Moving farther south, the Choctaw word for the January full moon is rv’fo cusee, which means Winter’s Little Brother (as opposed to December’s moon, rvfo-rakko, meaning Big Winter).
If you’re an observer of seasonal changes in the night sky, you know the Hopi name for this moon – paamuya or Moon of Life at its Height – is a good one. Moon of Life at its Height makes us wonder if the Hopi were comparing the January full moon to the summer sun. It’s a good name because (no matter where you are in the world), the January full moon does indeed take the position of the sun for six months hence.